MTA bailout controversy

May 5, 2009 2:03:01 PM PDT
So let me get this right. An agency that no one defends; that can't get its revenues to match its expenses; that has not updated parts of its antiquated system; that is disliked by workers and customers (passengers/riders) and government officials of every stripe, and that has earned a reputation as the bad news bears of transit -- this agency is about to get bailed out by hoisting hefty taxes, fees and surcharges on people and businesses already burdened by a recession?

Is that what we're seeing happen?

And no one from the MTA is held accountable? No one is made to pay any kind of price other than telling the rest of us that we have to pay more?

The bailout -- tentative so far -- calls for a payroll tax on businesses; $340 on every $100,000 of wages. Many businesses complain that, during a recession, that's a little like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip - meaning it ain't gonna happen.

And there's a real question about whether some companies can turn around and slap their workers with a "transportation tax" to offset the new payroll tax. Could that happen?

A 50-cent surcharge on taxicabs in New York City will raise nearly $100 million. Should taxi riders pay 20% more so that subway riders don't have to? Is that fair?

And there are some new car license fees as well.

Hey - no one wants to pay more; not taxi riders, not subway riders, not businesses, not workers. But what is problematic in all this, to me at least, isn't just the higher taxes and fees. Instead what is bothersome is that no one is talking about taking the MTA to task; lawmakers are just dealing with the acute mess the transit authority has laid out.

Where's the big-picture question about how the MTA allowed itself to get into this mess, and who should be held accountable for what is clearly mismanagement and perhaps even worse?

Why is no elected official asking these questions?

I'm just sayin'.

Some of our viewers are asking those questions in e-mails they wrote us.

"The MTA is a hole in the ground we throw money at," said Tom from Nassau County. "The tail just wags the dog in Albany. It's unfortunate that there is a complete lack of oversight in this organization."

And taxi drivers we heard from say they're also tired of higher charges. "Taxi drivers have already been hit hard by the downturn in the economy," writes Erhan Tuncel the owner/driver of a Yellow Cab. "It is outrageous for the state politicians to ask us and our passengers to bail out MTA. I blame nobody but the MTA and its management for the mess they are in. A $1.6 billion surplus just 18 months ago became a $2 billion deficit today. I would be bankrupt if I managed my finances as recklessly. I guess my reward for being a hard-working and financially responsible small businessman is to have the privilege of bailing out the MTA and its ridership. This taxi surcharge is a despicable and cowardly act. We will not forget it. See you (or not) in the next election Democrats."

And our online poll, admittedly unscientific, shows 46% think the bailout is a "very bad" deal, 33% find it acceptable, 20 percent are not sure.

We are still learning the specifics of the bailout - and we'll have the latest, and reaction, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, the Rent Guidelines Board votes tonight on rent hikes for the next fiscal year. We're there for this first vote -- before public hearings.

And we'll have the latest on the swine flu outbreak. Today, the CDC is reversing itself and asking schools NOT to close when it has a case of swine flu. The new guidelines come a day after the Rye Country Day School in Westchester closed for two weeks - TWO WEEKS! - after two suspected, not confirmed, cases of the flu.

Overreaction? Perhaps, but in fairness to the school, the County Health Department had advised them to close. And, indeed, moments before this column was sent out, the health dept. gave the all-clear to Rye Country Day.

The news from the CDC comes as the nation records its first resident death from the outbreak. It's a woman from Texas who, we're told, had serious health problems before she apparently was exposed to the flu.

And for all those who find themselves out of work, and are thinking about opening their own business, Joe Torres tonight has some helpful tips - and suggestions about where to get free advice. Being an entrepreneur is a dream for many people; now, with the economy in shambles, some are finding their timing is not so bad!

And finally, under the heading: How Much Fun Can People Really Have?

There's a law in Arizona that prevents people from carrying weapons in places where liquor is served. (I know, I know, so last century, right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong teaming booze and guns?)

Anyway, officials of the Phoenix Convention Center want state regulators to suspend their liquor license, so that folks attending the National Rifle Association national convention next week can carry and exhibit their weapons.

However, the catering company in charge of the convention center doesn't want to lose out - and now wants a partial license suspension; liquor service could be served only in areas where receptions or banquets are held and where people could check their weapons.

A spokeswoman for the Arizona Dept. of Liquor Licenses and Control called the request "unusual."

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.